I remember driving through the Smoky Mountains with my family when I was a kid and looking down into a green valley at a log cabin with smoke drifting from the chimney and thinking, “That’s where I want to live.” From then on I dreamed about living someday in a remote cabin. Sure enough, the first place I lived after college was a two-room redwood cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Not nearly as picturesque as the one I gazed at in the Smokies, but probably as rustic. I lived there eight years. Kate moved in after six, and we finally moved to town when we got tired of hauling laundry, groceries, and a toddler up and down the steep path from the driveway.
I hadn’t seen the Smokies since that time as a kid, and it looked much like I remembered it. We were a little late for fall color, but the clouds were lifting as we drove into the national park and Bessie offered wonderful panoramic views of treetops and the rocky river that follows the main road. (Mom made Dad stop by that river, I remember, so we could all take off our shoes and wade in it.)
There were many places where I would have loved to pull over, to photograph a stream or walk on a path, but there wasn’t ever a place to pull over and park. So Kate drove and I took a few photos through the windshield, and we both just tried to take it all in at 35 MPH. And the summit, where the Appalachian Trail followed the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, there was a large parking lot and at last we could get out and take in some views.
We stayed at Smokemont Campground, at the east end of the park. It was a great campground. A flat area next to the river, dotted with trees, and just a few campers there. We got a spot right across from the river, and we were there early enough (before noon) that we could spend the afternoon exploring.
After lunch, we drove out of the park through Cherokee (a town on the last true Cherokee land held by the tribe), to a little town called Bryson City. After a quick walk around town, we drove to a trailhead for a waterfall hike. There were three falls on the loop, but we only had an hour left of daylight, so we hiked to the first one, Juney Whank Falls (God, I love that name!).
We just stayed one night, but the next morning, before packing up, we went to the nearby Mountain Farm Museum, which includes both indoor and outdoor exhibits. We came back and still had time to take Bailey and Gypsy on the Nature Trail. This was a great trail that started with three log bridges over creeks. Gypsy questioned our judgment about these bridges at first, but Bailey led the way, and she scampered across bravely. When the walk was over, Gypsy was all puffed up like a gangster. “I’m a Ba-ad Cat!” I sang for her, as she strutted along the asphalt road on her leash, tail poofed like a squirrel’s.
It seems I’m continually regretting not spending more time at places, and this is another one of those. The weather was good, and I would have had no trouble filling in a week in this place. But at least I got to experience the Smokies again (even if I never did see that little cabin in a valley).